Session Nine: Cohesion and Consistency in the Qur’an
In the Qur’an, the only place where the story of Aadam alayhi salaam occurs twice consecutively back-to-back is suratul Israa (17) and suratul Kahf (18). The story of Aadam alayhi salaam is mentioned in other surahs such as A’raaf and Baqarah, but here in these two surahs, his story is mentioned in the middle of the surahs right after one another.
The story in both surahs begins similarly:
وَإِذْ قُلْنَا لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ اسْجُدُوا لِآدَمَ فَسَجَدُوا إِلَّا إِبْلِيسَ
“And when We said to the angels prostrate to Aadam, then they all did so with the exception of Iblees” (17:61, 18:50)
What follows in the rest of the ayaat differ. What we find in suratul Israa (which is also known as Surah Bani Isra’eel) are the words of Iblees. Iblees says:
أَأَسْجُدُ لِمَنْ خَلَقْتَ طِينً
“Shall I prostrate to the one whom You created from clay?” This is what is recorded at the end of the ayah, the complaint of Iblees. When we turn to suratul Kahf, there is something different. Instead of the statement of Iblees, there is his profile:
كَانَ مِنَ الْجِنِّ فَفَسَقَ عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِ
“He was from the Jinn, thus he violated the commandment of his Rabb”
Suratul Israa begins with the mention of Bani Isra’eel:
وَقَضَيْنَا إِلَىٰ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ فِي الْكِتَابِ لَتُفْسِدُنَّ فِي الْأَرْضِ مَرَّتَيْنِ وَلَتَعْلُنَّ عُلُوًّا كَبِيرًا
“And We decreed for the Children of Israel in the Scripture, that indeed you would do mischief on the earth twice and you will become tyrants and extremely arrogant!” (17:4)
Suratul Kahf begins with the mention of the Christians:
وَيُنْذِرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا اتَّخَذَ اللَّهُ وَلَدًا
“And warn those who say Allah has taken a son” (18:4)
Now, the story of Aadam, is it known to both Jews and Christians? Yes. This story was told both in surah 17 and 18. But the Jews have a different theological problem, their problem of coming to emaan is different and the problem of the Christians is different.
The problem of the Jews at the time of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam can be summed up in one word: arrogance. They were not willing to accept an Arab over one of them. The part of the story that is mentioned in surah 17 is when Iblees says: why should I make sajdah to him?, the part of the lesson they are forgetting. Iblees became Iblees because of his arrogance.
The Christians, on the other hand, for the most part are humble people. When they came to the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam during the delegation of Najran, they were not arrogant with him but they sat with him and talked with him. What is their deviation in this story? They say that Iblees was not a Jinn, but he was an angel. This is true of the Christians in general; they take basics of religion and confuse them. (ex: God is 3 in 1) They took the theological component of this story and said he was a fallen angel, but Allah ta’ala clarifies: he was from the jinn, He told the Christians what they need to hear. Allah ta’ala also added something else: after the departure of Esa alayhi salaam from this earth, they came to the consensus that they are going to abandon the laws of Musa alayhi salaam. Did Esa alayhi salaam abandon the law of Musa alayhi salaam? No. They left the law, and Allah told the Christians the thing they should know about Iblees is that he violated the commands of his Rabb. Why is that important for Christians? They systematically violated the commands of their Rabb by abandoning the law of Musa alayhi salaam.
The ayaat begin the exact same way but the endings are different to correspond to the people who are being addressed in each surah.
These two surahs are beautifully connected in other ways:
Firstly, through the dhikr of Allah. Suratul Israa begins:سُبْحَانَ الَّذِيSubhanAllah. Suratul Kahf begins:الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ Alhamdulillah. One begins with Allah’s Perfection and one begins with Allah’s Hamd.
In Suratul Israa, Allah begins:سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلًا مِنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ آيَاتِنَاGlorified and Exalted be He, Who took His slave for a journey by night from Al-Masjid-al-Haram to the farthest mosque, the neighbourhood whereof We have blessed, in order that We might show him of Our Ayat. On the other hand, in suratul Kahf, Allah begins:الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ الْكِتَابَAll praise and thanks are only for the One who sent down upon His slave the Book.
In surah 17, the slave has been taken in the middle of the night up to receive revelation from Allah, and in surah 18, the book has been sent down upon His slave. In one the slave goes up, and in the other, the book comes down.
Both of these surahs mention Musa alayhi salaam. One surah mentions his public life and the other mentions his private life. The Jews appreciated the public life of Musa alayhi salaam: when he rescued them from Firawn is mentioned in Israa. The Christians are a private people; they appreciate spirituality so which journey of Musa is mentioned in Kahf? The private journey of Musa alayhi salaam with Khidr, a journey of knowledge, discovery and wisdom which was appropriate to what the Christians needed to hear.
Secondly, through Tawheed . How do we get to know Allah ta’ala? Through three ways: by His Names, by His creation and by His revelation.
The second last ayah of suratul Israa gives us the first means to know Allah:
قُلِ ادْعُوا اللَّهَ أَوِ ادْعُوا الرَّحْمَـٰنَ ۖ أَيًّا مَا تَدْعُوا فَلَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ
Call upon Allah or call upon the Most Merciful—whichever Name you call, to Him belongs the Most Beautiful Names. (17:110) Knowing Allah ta’ala by His Names and Attributes.
The second last ayah of suratul Kahf gives us the second and third means to know Allah:
قُلْ لَوْ كَانَ الْبَحْرُ مِدَادًا لِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّي لَنَفِدَ الْبَحْرُ قَبْلَ أَنْ تَنْفَدَ كَلِمَاتُ رَبِّي وَلَوْ جِئْنَا بِمِثْلِهِ مَدَدًا
Say: “If the sea were ink for the Words of my Lord, surely, the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Rabb would be finished, even if we brought (another sea) like it for its aid.” (18:109) The Mufassiroon (scholars of Tafseer) comment that there are two kinds of “Words of Allah” (كَلِمَاتِ):
- Revelation are the Words of Allah
- His word “kun” (be). The consequence of the word “kun” is all of creation.
In the first surah, the Names of Allah are mentioned, and in the next surah, the other means to know Allah ta’ala (His revelation and creation) are mentioned.
Thirdly, through Shirk. When you get to know Allah ta’ala, you have acquired tawheed. The opposite of tawheed as we know is shirk, and the ending ayaat of both surahs are denouncements of shirk.
There are different kinds of denouncing of shirk. In simple terms: if you elevate any creation above where it belongs, that is shirk, and if you say anything about Allah that is lower than He deserves, that is shirk. Either you are taking the creation too high or bringing the Creator lower.
Suratul Israa ends:
وَقُلِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي لَمْ يَتَّخِذْ وَلَدًا وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ شَرِيكٌ فِي الْمُلْكِ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ وَلِيٌّ مِنَ الذُّلِّ ۖ وَكَبِّرْهُ تَكْبِيرًا
And say: “All the praises and thanks are only for Allah, Who has not taken a son, and Who has no partner in (His) Dominion, nor does He have a supporter in His Glory. And declare His Greatness above all greatness. (17:111)
To reduce the status of Allah azza wa jal, in His Attributes, in His Wisdom, is a form of shirk, which was committed by the Jews and has been denounced in this ayah.
On the other hand, The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam is commanded in the last ayah of Kahf:
قُلْ إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ مِثْلُكُمْ يُوحَىٰ إِلَيَّ أَنَّمَا إِلَـٰهُكُمْ إِلَـٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ ۖ فَمَنْ كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاءَ رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا
Say: “I am only a man like you. It has been inspired to me that your Ilah is One Ilah. So whoever hopes for the Meeting with his Rabb, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Rabb.”
The word used for man is بَشَرٌ bashar, which literally means one that has skin that is exposed. Allah ta’ala did not say insaan (man), but rather emphasized that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam is just flesh and bones like them. The only difference: يُوحَىٰ إِلَيَّ , revelation has been given to me that:إِلَـٰهُكُمْ إِلَـٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ, that your Ilaah, the One worthy of worship, is One. By saying this, the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam is making sure that no one takes him more than a bashar, which is the other shirk of elevating the creation too high.
In surah 17, the shirk of reducing the status of Allah is denied, and in surah 18, the shirk of elevating creation is denied.
The second last ayaat of both surahs are introductions to tawheed, and the last ayaat of both are a denouncing of shirk.
At the end of suratul Israa, Allah says:
وَقُلِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ
Say Alhamdulillah. A command.
How does suratul Kahf begin?
SubhanAllah, how beautifully connected!
Why did br Nouman share this gem? Because when we read translation, it seems to us that the subjects and stories are jumping from one to another. The scholars have given a lot of reflection as to why our Rabb has organized the Message this way, it is not random or chaos, but there is divine revelation in the sequence. Not only is an ayah a manifestation of divine wisdom, the sequence of the ayaat are a manifestation of divine wisdom as well so it deserves attention and reflection. Allah ta’ala is teaching us how to communicate and organize our thoughts by showing us the utmost fashion in which thoughts and a message may be organized.
May Allah ta’ala give us a deep appreciation of the Qur’an, and a love of Qur’an for us and our families. Ameen.